In the third and final installment of Tolkien's literary masterpiece, Frodo and Sam continue on their journey towards Mount Doom to destroy the one ring under the guidance of the creature Gollum. Meanwhile, the Fellowship help join the forces of Rohan and Gondor as they prepare for Sauron's final assault against Middle Earth.
From the extravagant partying at the Shire to the formation of the Fellowship to the Battle of Pelennor Fields and the climax at Mount Doom, Peter Jackson's heavily funded adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy epic had glorification and admiration flowing in from all directions. Despite being considered by many to be some of the finest films ever created, the trilogy has had its fair share of lapses. In the age where Hollywood mediocrity turns Oscar Gold, the final installment of the trilogy doesn't quite serve to be the epitome of magnificence as proclaimed.
For all its technical and visual brilliance, Return of the King falls short in departments that usually speak volumes of importance in distinguishing the standard from the magnificent. The pacing at times is sluggish and at times just plain abrupt – the march to the Black Gates of Mordor and the assault by the undead army serving as prime examples. PJ fails quite emphatically during significant moments of the battle sequences in getting the right balance and that really manages to put a dampener on the dedicated state of affairs. Once again, there is sense of lifelessness surrounding PJ's actors. I never thought much of Elijah Wood and nothing that he does in these three films would make me think otherwise. Rhys-Davies' Gimli is packed with more idiotic comic delight and I still can't think of a genuinely contributive aspect of his character throughout the movie other than the rapidly stale discriminatory jibes. Bloom's Legolas is flogged with appalling dialogue while Miranda Otto's Eowyn calmly descends to the ordinary after a promising appearance in The Two Towers. The other female leads (Arwen in particular) seem inconsequential to the eventual script and only go on to perpetuate the erratic flow. A movie's runtime isn't an aspect of evaluation as long as it avoids being taxing and unnecessary. This is what the ending failed to do and it closed a good 10 minutes after it actually should have. A short, quick narrative would have had dispelled the eventual overflowing dreariness. While a lot could have been left out, LOTR fans definitely would have wanted abandoned bits of the book to be put in. I doubt as to whether that would have made much of a difference with the additions probably aggregating the effect of the weaker points in the script.
It seems grossly unfair to criticize and not praise the culminating episode of arguably the most entertaining trilogy in recent times. Acting-wise, leaving aside Mortensen maturity in his Aragorn role and Serkis' brilliant (though only vocal) portrayal of Gollum, Sean Astin does a tremendous job as Sam playing his character with conviction that clearly stands amongst the generally pedestrian performances. Visually, it's quite simply astounding no matter how much of it was generated by computerized textures. With the gloriously serene Rivendell, the unscalable heights of the Minas Tirith, the essence of evil inside fiery Mordor, the epic battle formations – the guys at WETA Digital have done an astounding job at bringing the books to life with PJ's attention to detail only adding to the visual fascination. Howard Shore's score is stirring in its integration with battle sequences and the panning camera over the locales. Credit given where credit is due – visually enacting the three books was one thing, remaining faithful to the source material was another – and PJ has done a terrific job in ensuring that both of those as accomplished as unerringly as possible.
Perhaps, it's difficult to rate RoTK very highly when I barely show admiration on Tolkien's work. Being a tale of fantasy with constant mythical undertones, it tends to facilitate a dreamer's escapism. This is where its path to cinematic brilliance is cut short. While RoTK is much more easily appreciable than Coppola's gems of the 70's, the latter transcended boundaries of excellence while dealing with matters closer to one's own human self. While PJ's on-screen grandeur had subtle hints of Fritz Lang's mastery, it has been CG that has got him there. The dedication and determination needed to incorporate Tolkien's work on 35mm film was by no means a simple feat and very few could possibly have done a better job than the husky New Zealander. However, he has quite a bit to do if his name is to be put in the company of past greats. - Snider Rodrigues